Unfortunately, actors of color in horror movies are under-represented and tend to follow a short-lived trope: they are the token minority and then they die. Some directors, writers, and other film folks have worked to challenge this concept and place non-white actors in lead roles. This list aims to showcase movies within the genre that break the expectation of Black characters being a minute part of an ensemble cast. But frankly, there aren’t a whole lot of movies to pick from that meet these parameters. Be sure to support Black horror films when they are released (like Get Out), so we have more movies to add to this list.
Night of the Living Dead
OBVIOUSLY. George Romero’s iconic black-and-white 1968 zombie challenged industry norms by casting Duane Jones as its lead. The social commentary is unmistakeable and still carries importance to this day. Fun fact: Jones, a Sorbonne graduate, refused to play the original version of his character (an uneducated truck driver); he altered the script to reflect his educational background.
Tony Todd and his gravel-like baritone voice play the title character in this 1992 flick (and boy, does it feel like a 1992 flick). Taking place in the Chicago Cabrini-Green housing project, grad student Helen is researching the legend of Candyman, a black man who was murdered for fathering a child with a white woman. Eddie Murphy was originally desired for Todd’s role but was too expensive, and I’m very glad the cast this film the way they did.
Dracula gets the blaxploitation treatment in this 1972 William Crane classic. Cheesy, dated disco scenes aside, Blacula withstands the test of time and provides a compelling story that keeps your attention all the way through the 90-minute film. Boasting a nearly exclusively-Black cast, actors and actresses play a variety of roles and break many stereotypes–racial and gender-based–in their occupations and personalities.
Merriam-Webster defines an event horizon as “the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing can escape from within it.” Captain Miller, a.k.a. Laurence Fishburne, leads his crew to a ship called Event Horizon. You can see where this is going, but the effects along the cinematography and the uncertainty of anything set in space make this movie creepy as balls. Bonus points for featuring a Black man in a leadership role in the STEM field.
This David Fincher thriller verges on horror due to the grotesque nature of some of its scenes. It also has one of my favorite casts of all time. The Morgan-Freeman-and-Brad-Pitt detective duo versus the ever-unsettling-Kevin-Spacey serial killer is one for the ages. Freeman’s character is the only one throughout the entire movie who seems to be fairly level headed and doesn’t lose his shit.
Ganja & Hess
Duane Jones, of Night of the Living Dead fame, costars with Marlene Clark in this lesser known classic. Jones plays an anthropologist who is studying a blood-drinking tribe and gets attacked by his assistant who spreads a thirst for blood. The vampirism is not a simple scare tactic though–it is seen as a metaphor for addiction and racial divides in America. Furthermore, Ganja & Hess inspired Spike Lee to create Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.
Wesley Snipes brings this comic book-inspired vampire hunter to life. Perhaps more of an action/thriller, the film’s namesake must defeat a legion of vampires looking to wreak havoc on the human population and assert their dominance. LL Cool J had original interest in the role of Blade, but I think Snipes’ interpretation was a solid casting choice.
Halle Berry, the first Black woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress, stars in this psychological thriller. Berry’s character, Dr. Miranda Grey, is a psychiatrist accused of brutally murdering her husband. Tackling the perceived trustworthiness of individuals with mental health issues in the criminal justice system (albeit with a twist of ghostly possession), Gothika is an entry-level horror flick that focuses more on character development than jump scares.
What do you do when a white supremacist gang murders your Black boyfriend? Get your revenge by summoning zombies to annihilate them, of course. Another classic blaxploitation horror flick, Marki Bey stars as protagonist Diane “Sugar” Hill. If you’re a fan of MF Doom, it’s also worth noting that he has sampled this film in a few tracks before.
Alien vs. Predator
While this movie may or may not be a total shit show, its inclusion of a strong, intelligent woman of color as its protagonist speaks volumes. Sanaa Lathan plays Alexa Woods, an antarctic mountain guide. Spoiler: she outwits and outlasts the rest of her male counterparts.
House on Haunted HIll (1999)
This fun sequel to the original William Castle film features Taye Diggs as one of the party guests, looking to take home the now-increased prize money for spending a night in the haunted house. He even won the Blockbuster Entertainment Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Horror Movie for his role.
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
Negative points for have a Black man as the token criminal, but the fact that *SPOILER* two people of color survive have allowed this movie space on this list. With a 75% rating on Rotten Tomatos, this remake has received fairly high praise considering it is not an original. Also, there is a dog named Chips and it lives.
Released 20 years ago, Anaconda has solidified itself in its “bad-good” cult film status. The cast consists of plenty of big names and the film consists of plenty of questionable CGI. While it may not be a classic piece of cinema, it’s at least worth viewing to say you have.
Did we miss your favorite? Let us know!